Shakre was hanging a batch of horsefennel up to dry when she felt his presence. She froze with one arm in the air, cocking her head to the side, sorting through the information fed to her by her deeper senses.
At first, she couldn’t place him, but all at once everything clicked into place and her weathered face creased in a smile. Of course it was him. There was no other Song like his in this whole world.
She finished pinning the horsefennel to the line she had strung up between her simple hut and a tree and set herself to wait for him. It was not long before he appeared.
He was as impressive as she remembered him. Taller than the tallest Takare by a head, he was broad and heavily muscled. His skin was the color of burnt copper; his eyes glowed amber. But beyond all that there was a presence about him, a physical solidity that was undeniable, almost palpable, even from a distance. Even without her deeper senses she would have noticed him. It was impossible not to. The world seemed to pause around him.
He strode up to her and stopped, the look on his face unreadable.
“It’s good to see you, Shorn,” she said.
He nodded without replying. His eyes briefly touched hers, then moved away, scanning the surroundings. She lived near the edge of the valley in Ankha del’Ath, and the nearest homes were only partially visible through the trees. It was early spring, the first leaves just beginning to show on the oaks and the elms. A few of the Takare could be seen here and there. Two were sparring with each other in hand-to-hand combat. They moved with blinding speed, arms and legs flashing. Yet each blow was stopped before actual contact was made. One Takare woman was practicing her forms, moving through a series of complicated moves with a grace and balance that was almost eerie. Another was sitting in front of his hut in meditation.
“They’ve returned to their roots,” she said. “They’ve truly returned home.”
One of the Takare, a middle-aged woman with her hair in a long braid, saw Shorn. She turned to face him, placed one hand over her heart, and bowed. Shorn raised a hand in acknowledgement. Straightening, she walked away.
“You have not been forgotten,” she continued, “but I don’t think you have to worry about the whole Taka-slin thing anymore.” She smiled, teasing him gently. She remembered how much he hated being considered the reincarnation of the legendary Takare hero.
She waited then, to see if he would say anything. When he didn’t, she asked, “What brings you here, Shorn?”
His gaze turned back to her. She was surprised to see emotion there. She remembered when she’d doubted he had any feelings, when she’d thought he was nothing but a heartless killing machine. How wrong she’d been.
“I wished to tell you something.”
She was immediately intrigued. What could he possibly have traveled this far to tell her? “Would you like a seat?” she asked him.
At first he looked like he would refuse, but then he nodded. He looked at the stools she had sitting outside the small wood-and-stone home she and Elihu shared and then looked at her, both of them realizing what would happen if he was to try to sit there. But there was a fallen tree nearby, and he went and sat down on it. She pulled up one of the stools.
Shorn wasted no time.
“It is about Netra.”
That concerned her. “Is something wrong? Is she okay?”
“It is not that. Netra is well. I came to tell you that she is a daughter you can be proud of. She is a woman of great honor and great compassion.”
Shakre actually felt her mouth drop open. “What?”
He frowned. “Was I not clear?”
“No, you were clear. Only, why come all this way just to tell me this?”
His heavy brow furrowed. His next words were clearly painful. “I have a son, back on Themor. A son I will never see again. This is what I wish someone would tell me about him.”
It took her a moment to understand what he was saying. He’d come here as a parent, knowing that there was nothing a parent would rather hear than that the child they loved had grown up to be a person they could be proud of.
And it was something he would never hear.
A great sorrow gripped her heart.
“Thank you, Shorn,” she said, her voice husky. “I am sorry too, sorry that you cannot know the same. I’m sure, though, that your son is also—”
He cut her off. “You do not know what you speak of.” He sounded almost angry. “You do not know my world. We are a violent, warlike people. To be a warrior is the only quality we value. Compassion. Love. Forgiveness. These we consider to be weaknesses. They are things to be ashamed of. My son can only be as I once was. You know why I was exiled, do you not?”
Shakre nodded. Netra had told her. He’d refused to destroy the outpost filled with the children of his people’s enemy.
“After, my son turned his face from me. Everyone in my family did. In their eyes, I was a traitor. When I came here, I was filled with shame and hatred of myself. Though I still walked and moved, I was already dead. All I sought was an honorable death, some small way to atone for my weakness.”
He raised his great head and stared into her eyes. She was in there a need to be understood. “Netra saved my life. She showed me that compassion is not a weakness, that love is strength. She gave me an answer when I thought no answer was possible.”
Shakre sat back, struck by his words. She’d glimpsed some of this, and pieced more together after talking with Netra, but she’d never imagined the painful entirety of it. It stunned her, how much lay in the depths of his soul. The pain, the isolation. She couldn’t imagine it.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“I am not,” he replied. “It is better this way.”
She nodded, hearing the truth in what he was saying. He’d lost his life but gained his soul. It was a credit to him that he could see that.
“I came to give to you what I can never have,” he said.
Her eyes filled with tears. “Thank you.” It was hard to get the words out.
She stood too. “You’re leaving already? Won’t you stay for a time?”
He shook his head. “You do not know the things I have done in my old life.” His features twisted suddenly, the pain breaking through. “There is no peace in my heart. There is only darkness.” He looked off into the distance, to the west. “Out there, somewhere, maybe I can find something else…”
Shakre put her hand on his arm. It looked absurdly small against his bulk. He gazed down at it. “You will find it,” she said fiercely. “I’m sure of it.”
He nodded. “I am better for having met you.”
“And I am as well.” Her words were heartfelt.
“Until we meet again,” he said. He pulled away and strode off into the forest. She stared after him until he was swallowed by the trees.
(Author’s Note: For some time I’ve heard from readers wanting to know what happened to Shorn after the events described in Immortality and Chaos, especially after Netra, Wulf Rome, Quyloc and others got their chance to reappear in Chaos and Retribution. At first, I had no idea what to tell them, other than, I’d like to know too. But then a few months ago I got a picture of Shorn wandering the land alone, searching for something he’d glimpsed while with Netra but never found. Like all of us, he’s searching for answers, for peace, for healing. He doesn’t know where it is, or how to obtain it, only that it’s out there somewhere. I saw him appearing at the door of a farmhouse, looking for work. I have to tell you, the response of the family when they opened the door to find him there was pretty humorous. I mean, what would you do if you opened your door and found Shorn standing there? Anyway, one of these days Shorn’s story is going to come to life. He still has a tremendous journey to undertake and I for one am excited to see where it goes.)